Beware the Zybo, Victorious ‘Wulfers

2595534635_a5243976e3Continuing apologies for the long absence. Part of this I can blame on a (deserved?) week of indolence, and part on my slow march through this extraordinary (and extraordinarily dense) issue of PhaenEx devoted to animals and phenomenology. In it, so far, I’ve finally discovered coherent explanations for Agamben’s The Open (thank you, Kelly Oliver) and have (re?)discovered philosophical biology and ethology in David Morris’s “Faces and the Invisible of the Visible: Toward an Animal Ontology.” A sample, which does not–caveat–give away the main line of Morris’s argument:

each of the germ layers [of the embryo] embod[ies] a different and complex relation of animal insides and outsides. To wit: The ectoderm layer (nerves and skin) takes the outside inside and gives a protective, exploratory and expressive outside to the inside; mesoderm (muscle, skeleton, circulation and waste removal) provides inside support for the body and its outsides, and removes inside waste to the outside; endoderm (guts, liver, lungs) digest the outside to turn it into inside. (Interestingly, the eardrum is a trimembrane composed of cells from each of these layers—a fact that might have perked Derrida’s ears.) (157).

Today’s haul from the library included Thomas of Cantimpré’s Liber de natura rerum, where I happily ran across its entry on the “Zybo,” a wicked, hyena-like creature that imitates the voices of human and dogs, each of which meets its doom when they draw near the creature (e.g., on the dogs, “et, cum approximaverint, a zibonibus discerpuntur”). Interesting stuff here, then, on the conjunction of human and canine voices and desires, recognized by the Zybo as being, at least in effect, the same kind of enemy (or prey?). I’m also pleased by Thomas’s juxtaposition of the Zybonic tendency to enter into (presumably human) tombs, where it delights in eating rotten flesh (“et ibi cadaverum spurcitiis delectatur”), and its more general delight in eating human flesh (“carnibus enim humanis libenter vescitur”): what is the relation of these two facts? What I can I do to set them in motion? I’m looking forward to the fun I can have here.

Speaking of fun, thanks a lot Beowulfers. You’re all good kings, because your poem won the poll of opening lines. Here’s the breakdown, and, above, you’ll see my feeble attempt to honor your victory:
Virgil: 21%
Dante: 16%
Beowulf: 28%
Chaucer: 21%
Daphne du Maurier: 12%

One final fun–or perhaps sad–fact: Mars needs women, and the Cerne Abbas giant needs sheep. Wet winter and the absence of grazers has left the giant and its, erm, ponderousness, all too modest. Somehow we need to tempt a mothlike flock to derenude the giant. Surely Jeffrey can make something of this odd relationship between animal life and prehistoric landscape?

Thomas’s complete entry on the hyena:

“Hyene, ut dicunt Plinius et Solinus, est animal semper in sepulchris mortuorum habitans. Duas habet naturas, maris scilicet et femine. Huic cum spina riget, collum continua unitate flecti nequit, nisi toto corpore circumacto [is this usual? weird]. Stabula sequitur equorum, ut Iacobus [James of Vitry] et Aristotiles dicunt, et auditu assiduo addiscit nomen, quod exprimere possit imitatione [here the usual imitation of the human voice], ut hominem dolosa astutia evocatum occidat [and the luring out of a human by this clever trick to kill it]. Vomitus quoque humanos mentitur falsis singultibus [wait, what?]. Sic etiam canes sollicitatos devorat [there’s the dogs]. Venantes etiam canes si umbram eius dum sequuntur contingerit, latrare nequeunt voce perdita.” And then some stuff about their color and size.

Thomas’s entry on the Zybo ends, by the way, with “quod zibo de genere hyene bestie est; et satis videtur in moribus,” so, yeah, Thomas makes the connection – See more at: